My Life with a Bossy Toddler
Tantrums are a Part of Life. Bossiness is Just the Cherry on Top
So, here I am turning the internet upside down and feverishly flipping the pages of several parenting books at a time, all with broken spines from their regular use. This time, all in the name of taming my wild one and finding a good way of dealing with temper tantrums, hopefully before I go insane!
She’s a beautiful soul. Fearless and tenacious, yet sweet and friendly. She’s sly and sneaky and completely hysterical about it. Sometimes my head spins with the speed of her understanding of the world she was born into.
My little wild one is definitely figuring out that she is her own being in this big, bright world and she wants her opinions not only heard, but carried out, not now, but RIGHT NOW! Otherwise, you’d better watch out and get out of her way!
This is how she earned her well deserved nickname — Bossy. Though I try not to use it around her… that’s all she needs… THAT power. No way! Okay, most of the time I fail because it’s too perfect not to use.
She is a happy-go-lucky kid most of the time but when she looses it, boy, she really LOOSES it!
The Terrible Two’s Right on Schedule
With her second birthday just shy of a month past, the terrible twos, as you might’ve guessed at this point, have set in with force. And now, here I am … living it and trying my hand at dealing with temper tantrums and a defiant toddler (and I think that’s putting it mildly). How’s it going you ask? Well, let’s just say, there are two very cranky girls who are just ready to crash at the end of the day because of the sheer and mutual exhaustion.
One minute, we are building an awe-inspiring metropolis and the next, I couldn’t even say what happened next but whatever it was, the disruption of peace was swift and ruthless.
Suddenly, there is a toddler-Godzilla destroying every resemblance of our hard work, screaming on top of her lungs and throwing everything in her path trying my cat-like reflexes (not!) at blocking wooden blocks flying at my head (this kid’s got an ARM, I tell ya!).
Maybe it’s growing pains. Maybe there was a sudden change in temperature. It’s possible she needed a drink and I missed the cue. Could she be bored? Perhaps she got hungry or had a stomach cramp. Maybe it’s her personality. Maybe she was grunting one out. Who knows!?
Whatever the reason is for a tantrum, sometimes, moms are taken by complete surprise and left clueless in the middle of a toddler mayhem. Toddler: 1, Mom: 0. Of course, I am speaking from experience. And you’d think I’d learn by now but her rules are ever changing. I mean, the green dinosaur cup is not anything like her pink bear cup! The spoon is a much better device for eating spaghetti. Duh, mom, get it together. And, OF COURSE, the dog can’t go outside before the queen baby. I don’t know what I was thinking. Oh, yea, I am not a toddler. But I am trying.
Time to Take Contol
So, until now… until this very moment, I was at her mercy. I was at her mercy and not doing her any favors by being so. I was a frustrated mom. And it felt terrible. Our main issues were how long this emotional kid could carry on about the smallest thing in the world. It was draining.
Every kid will have tantrums. That’s expected and unavoidable. But as a mom striving to merely survive her toddlers intense tantrums and provide good life lesson at the same time, I faced myself with quite a challenge. We needed to cut down the number of explosions if possible, dilute their intensity, and shorten the episode time. Given that she is not tired, hungry, or cold I set out to equip myself with knowledge and power to tackle this issue and start dealing with a defiant toddler in the best manner possible.
With just a bit of digging, I realized I did a few things wrong that, in turn, turned bad situations into worse ones. The answers I found made the bond between my toddler and me warmer, sweeter, and deeper. We are a team again. And I am grateful.
Why Toddlers Throw Temper Tantrums
Hey, I get it, there is lots going on in her little world. But sometimes, it doesn’t leave me any less clueless about what to do. I needed help, I knew that, but first, I wanted to know that ever-asked question, “WHY?!” After a little digging, I found a great answer at Parenting.com. It’s a quick, awesome read, check it out: Why Toddlers Throw Temper Tantrums.
Next, I needed to know exactly “HOW?!” to help my toddler when she’s having an emotional meltdown. The following expert tips have cut our tantrums dramatically in the number of outbursts, length, and intensity of each incident!
Top Expert Tips in Dealing with Temper Tantrums & Defiant Toddlers
There is no one particular answer for any one, unique child. I think we have to take things out of this universe and apply it to our own lives the way it makes sense to you and your family. We have to pull out the information that is relevant to us and weave our solutions from that. All the while filing away everything else for a rainy day.
The experts I sought, which you’ll find below, are ones that I trust as great sources great for health and ultimate well-being when it comes to children, toddlers in particular. They are doctors and researchers with many years of experience which allows me to compare and contrast among their findings. Enjoy…
But First, Some Reasons Behind Temper Tantrums
- A child’s frustration with his own limited abilities to express his feelings and communicate with words
- The need to assert independence
- Feeling a lack of control
- Having either too few or too many limits
- Hunger, fatigue, overstimulation, and boredom
- Read more at What to Expect’s 9 Ways to Stop Toddler Temper Tantrums
Okay… here we go…
#1. The Kazdin Love Conditioning Formula
Dr. Kazdin is the Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic.
49 of his 700 publications that focus on interventions for children and adolescents, cognitive-behavioral treatment, parenting and child rearing, interpersonal violence, and methodology and research design. He’s been interviewed by the likes of CNN, NPR, PBS, BBC, and he has appeared on Good Morning America, ABC News, 20/20, The Dr. Phil Show, and the Today Show.
This guy, literally, wrote the book on dealing with temper tantrums and challenging younglings. You can find it at Amazon under the title The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child. And you know that it’s gotten favorable results among parents as it boasts 4.5 stars out of 144 reviews.
So, here is his secret weapon in dealing with a defiant toddler, love. Yep, his #1 tip for helping parents deal with their rebellious toddlers is to show love above all, as often as possible.
Kazdin Love Conditioning Formula:
Good defiant toddler parenting = 90% love + 10% discipline
Why it Works
Positive attention allows her to know what good and bad behavior is and which gets her the happy mom and which one brings out the not-so-positive results. She’ll realize that when she behaves well, I notice and am pleased by it. More importantly, she needs to hear that she mostly got this toddler-life thing figured out and that she is a superstar… most of the time. Otherwise, we end up yelling at our kids as the only means of communication. Or so it sounds to them. Nag, nag, nag. Where do you think, “Mom yells a lot!” comes from.
What it Looks Like
Positive recognition is simple (a hug, smile, praise or all three) and is most effective when done right away while audibly providing her your feedback on why this positive attention was awarded (not in those words). For example, “I loved how you cleaned up your blocks and put them in the bag where they belong” or “Awesome job putting those books away!!!” That’s it. Catch ’em doing something wonderful, tell’em so!
Get more info on Dr. Kazdin and how he helps parents in dealing with a defiant toddler in this great ABC News article, 10 Tips for Parents of Defiant Children.
How Expert Tip #1 has helped us personally in dealing with temper tantrums:
Bossy is really receptive to the positive feedback that she gets. I’d even say she lights up and is more driven to be my little helper. We get creative with cleanup times making it a fun game of who collects more toys in a bin or bag where they belong.
Giving her responsibility like cleaning up gives her a sense of purpose too and allows her to feel that she is contributing which in turn, makes her feel accomplished and happy.
#2. Identify the Tantrum Type
According to Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., a psychiatrist and author, and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., when a child is having a tantrum attack it’s important to identify what part of the brain is at work. As it’s described in The Whole-Brain Child, the two types of tantrums are “upstairs” and “downstairs” tantrums and it’s important to respond to each respectively.
An Upstairs Tantrum
An upstairs outburst is when your little human decides to flip her lid. This is an instance when she chooses to pester you, terrorize the household, and be a major pain in the course of the day. Note the words chooses and decides. Just as she makes a conscious choice to misbehave, she can just as likely stop the madness anytime she wants. These actions are usually working an angle to get the desired outcome: a toy, more TV time, or a later bedtime.
What does The Whole-Brain Child say about dealing with a toddler tantrum stemming from the upstairs brain?
Here are the steps for dealing with an upstairs, or controlled, tantrum:
- Don’t negotiate.
- Discuss appropriate and inappropriate behavior in an understanding manner.
- Follow through on those consequences if the behavior doesn’t stop.
According to the authors, if you refuse to give in to upstairs tantrums — regardless of the age of your child — you’ll stop seeing them on a regular basis.
Dr. Siegel talks about the upstairs and downstairs brain during a tantrum attack.
A Downstairs Tantrum
A downstairs tantrum is completely different from an upstairs tantrum. A downstairs tantrum is where a child is so upset that he’s no longer able to control or use his upstairs brain. At this point, the upstairs brain is officially hijacked by his lower brain — in particular his amygdala.
When this happens the little body gets flooded with stress hormones and no part of his higher brain is fully functioning. As a result, it’s impossible — at least at the moment — to control emotions or body.
Dealing with temper tantrums occurring in the downstairs brain requires a nurturing and comforting technique:
- Connect with the little one and help him calm down. Think loving touches and soothing tones.
- If he’s really out of control and is in danger of hurting himself or someone else, hold him close and calmly talk to him down as you remove him from the scene of agitation.
- There are many different nurturing techniques a parent can experiment with and figure out which works best but the most important part is to soothe while steering away from the turmoil and redirecting the kiddo with a different activity or environment.
- Don’t talk about consequences or appropriate behavior as this information cannot be processed by the downstairs brain which is currently in control.
- Once his amygdala is calm and the upstairs brain takes control again, you can then discuss feelings and expectations.
Your discipline can now maintain your authority — that’s crucial — and you can do so from a more informed and compassionate position. In turn, your little (or big) one is more likely to internalize the lesson because you’re teaching it when his brain is more receptive to learning.
Dr. Bryson’s suggestions on how to talk to our kids after the tantrum has passed.
How Expert Tip #2 has helped us personally in dealing with temper tantrums:
Bossy loves to get one over on her mom. And at the peanut age of two, she already knows how to manipulate and steer things in the direction that benefit her. She’s slick I tell ya. Knowing which part of her brain is at work during a given tantrum allows me to act swiftly and easily defuse the situation.
When she’s in the upstairs mode, I stand my ground, remind her of what’s expected of her, and give her some time in her quiet spot (that’s expert tip #3). When she has cooled down she comes out on her own and she has completely diffused. Unless of course she’s completely loosing her mind in which case hugs are in order (that’s expert tip #5).
After the meltdown has blown over we follow up by a cuddle and talk about what happened. She’s much more receptive to our chats about what’s expected of her (and mommy too) well after the insidents. I found that her out of control tantrums, aka downstairs tantrums, last only a few minutes with this approach.
This book, The Whole-Brain Child is an incredible read for parents everywhere! I’ve read and re-read it numerous times and each time I take away something valuable. There are so many lessons and applications to our everyday lives that I really consider myself lucky for making this addition to our library when I was pregnant and readying myself to become a full-fledged mom.
Should you choose this spectacular title to join your bookshelves, you’ll find 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind and amazing
#3. Trying Positive Time-Outs
Rumor has it that time-outs don’t work. Susan Stiffleman, a family therapist, and educational consultant argues that time-outs are only a short term solution before they stop working altogether. Why? Because, according to Stiffleman, they violate one of the three primary drives of a child’s brain: the need for close and secure attachment. Read the entire article: Positive Discipline: Why Time-Outs Don’t Work by Susan Stiffleman.
Using a time-out in a positive manner can help avoid pitfalls and allow you both some time to cool down.
How it Can Help
A positive time out will allow your kid (and you) the time to pause, doing something quietly, solo or near you all the while giving the brain and nervous system a chance to cool down and regain control. And though I am not directly interacting with her, she knows she’s there to calm down, not being punished. She also knows that I am right here if/when she needs me.
After you’ve got a cucumber kid on your hands, take a moment to talk about what made her upset and how you can tweak some things that will help avoid a tantrum next time.
Try it Yourself
To practice positive time-outs, create a space of calm and peace with your kiddo. Include things they like such as books, drawing paper & pencils, stuffed animals and give this space a name together (ie. The Calm Place; Chill Zone). Let them spend as much time as they need to calm down without any interference. On the flip side of the coin, if they are receptive to it, join them in their quiet area and join in on a peaceful activity (coloring, reading).
Some parents disagree with this method arguing that they do not wish to reward negative behavior with toys or other comforts. “But these parents should take into consideration that a kid that lashes out is not a bad child but a discouraged one”, writes WebMDs Jane Meredith Adams. Jane also suggests that time-outs are not fit for little humans under the age of 3. Read more about Positive Time-Outs.
How Expert Tip #3 has helped us personally in dealing with temper tantrums:
I know, all too well, that when she is having an emotional breakdown because I gave her too much water in a cup, it’s not a good idea to negotiate at that time. It’s a lose-lose situation. Her tent, aka Rishi’s Place, gives her a moment to unplug from the chaos and focus on something entirely different, like drawing a picture (her favorite), reading a book or laying down with a stuffed bear… while mom either joins her or does her own quiet activity (like downing a bottle of imaginary wine… totally kidding… well, maybe not totally).
After a few minutes, I ask her if she wants to cuddle and talk about what happened and I let her guide me in when it is she’s ready to rejoin this world. We discuss what the acceptable and unacceptable behavior and what happened in her last meltdown specifically. Sometimes she’ll decline with a cute, “Nope” though most of the time she’s happy and chipper to chat with me and just like that, she’ ready for the next adventure.
#4. Keeping This Toddler Accountable
She might be little but she sure is capable. This becomes quite apparent to me as a mom when she sees her sippy cup on top of a kitchen counter and finds a way to get up there like a little Cirque De Soleil acrobat. So, if she can push chairs, climb them, and balance on her tippy-toes to reach her object of desire she can certainly help me clean up her toys, switch laundry, and even dust.
I am in total agreement with mom pro and author, Cheryl Butler, giving this kid a purpose has really taken her mood into an upward swing. Setting limits and regulations along with letting her know, verbally and clearly, what is to be expected helped an immense amount in encouraging her understanding in what it is that’s expected of her giving her direction and guidance.
This, Butler reminds us, will not produce a 100% compliant child. What this does is helps them understand what is expected within your family unit.
When to Apply Accountability
Cheryl Butler‘s (Mighty Mommy of Dirty Tips) top advice for setting yourself up for success in cutting down the number of tantrums thrown is to make sure your kids know what is expected of them. Once they have a clear understanding of their responsibilities within your family unit, you are able to provide guidance if and when rules are broken while maintaining clarity between the two of you.
This tip can be implemented as early as 2 years old and is applied best when things are going smoothly and her brain is ready to receive information or importance and responsibility. Evidence shows, that this type of conversation will not be as welcomed in the midst of a tantrum or outburst or even a slightly salty attitude, believe me. It’s best to pick a time of peace and calm like that magic moment right before breakfast when everyone is gathered to eat together.
How Expert Tip #4 has helped us personally in dealing with temper tantrums:
Bossy likes to feel important so I make sure I explain to her how her cleaning up her blocks will help mama not fall down and hurt herself or how our library will grow so very big if we just take care of our books, treat them nicely, and put them away when we are done reading them. Through this exercise, she can see how her actions have an impact on our lives in a positive way and she is doing her part, just as her mama is.
Stuff this defiant toddler is in charge of:
- Cleaning up toys, sort, and organize them (to a degree)
- Putting away books
- Watering her very own plant
- Feeding and changing her baby dolls
- Reading to her baby dolls
- Dusting the furniture
- Cleaning the mirrors
She’s not always on top of her game with this and that’s fine, I mean, she’s two. But I can hardly contain my pride when I see her take charge and start to collect her puzzle pieces into a bag all on her own. Then bringing them over to me stretching out her little arms with satisfaction to show me her accomplishment.
#5. Meet Aggression with a Hug
Typically, falling into the “sadness trap” is something you want to avoid as it nurtures the negative behavior, says Michael Potegal, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, who has spent the latest part of his professional career studying tantrums and how and why young children have such brutally emotional explosions.
Kids expressing physical aggression during an outburst require different measures of treatment. If your little one gets cray-cray, as the kids say, and starts kicking, hitting, or biting — hug. Hug deliberatly and for a long time. Hold them. This is no ordinary sweet and gentle hug. This is a firm and reassuring gesture to show her that she is safe and that you are here for her no matter what she is going through. Within 6 seconds of receiving a hug, your child’s body will release happy hormones, oxytocin and serotonin, flowing.
This might not fix the tantrum itself but deep down, it lets the little Tazmanian Devil that you are the safe place, that you are there for him, and that you will never give up no matter what.
How Expert Tip #5 has helped us personally in dealing with temper tantrums:
Bossy is really emotional at times and when she gets out of control and physical I hold her, often wrapping her in her favorite blanket. Oftentimes, she’s so upset that she puts up a bit of a fight. Though in a few minutes she is quietly sobbing and steadily calming down in my arms while I tell her that I love her and reassuring that whatever is stressing her out, we can work on to. And always together.
Generally speaking, you want to ignore the tantrum and not reward it. Embracing your child is really for those moments that they are completely out of control and physical aggression seeps out.
#6. Encourage the Use of Words
I am always telling Bossy, “Use your words.” I don’t worry much about the speech development, giving her the time to progress in her linguistic skills without pressuring her much. However, I am a big fan of teaching her baby keywords.
Keywords are those useful words or phrases that allow my sweet girl to communicate with me to let me know what’s happening in her world and what it is she’s in need of at any given moment. It doens’t always work (like when she’s under her downstairs brain takeover – see tip #2), but when it does, it’s bliss and the tantrum is gone as quickly as it set on because I am able to provide her with solutions to her problems.
Some of the great keywords that we focused on:
- “I want”
How Expert Tip #6 has helped us personally in dealing with temper tantrums:
She’s not always consistent with her word use but she’s getting better daily. When she’s so wound up that she can’t find the words that she does know, I lay it out for her, “Are you hungry?”, “Do you want a drink?”, or “Do you have an ouch?” Most of the times she’ll hone in on what exactly is bothering her as I say it. It’s really as easy as that.
Once we find the issue, mom moves quickly to remedy the situation and move on with our day. I can’t tell you how much easier this made our lives.
Note: if your wee one isn’t talking yet, I highly recommend teaching her sign language. You can start this as early as 6 months. Check out this awesome post, Baby Sign Language: 21 Words and Signs to Know.
#7. Give Choices
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP, states, giving your toddler choices gives them the opportunity to feel like they are in charge.
After all, a lot of toddler frustration is being unable to grasp the big, big world they are finally seeing. They are learning how things work and what they mean in relation to themselves. They are learning how to communicate and have so many thoughts and emotions with an unmatched power to relate those feelings to us.
How Expert Tip #7 has helped us personally in dealing with temper tantrums:
By having Bossy make her own choices about what will take place next, she’s easily calmed and looking forward to the next activity. And I think it’s only right that she feels like she is contributing to some desired outcomes in her life.
I might be her mom, and overseer for the moment, but she is her own person and should feel that way too. She’s much more compliant when she feels like she’s a part of a team. And it really works 80% of the time in helping her calm herself and out of a major toddler S-Storm!
Fun (not really) Facts: Toddler Tantrums
- The average tantrum only lasts 30 seconds to 2 minutes or so.
- They are most active during the ages 2 and 3.
- They typically end just as quickly as they started and the little offender is, once again, a happy-go-lucky babe.
- Ignoring (most) tantrums will eliminate most of them.
- There are different types of tantrums and ways to deal with them.
- Occasional tantrums are normal. Daily tantrums are not.
Fun (yes, really) Toddler Tantrum Memes
You’re not alone in the tantrum game, mama!
I’ll leave you with this comforting expert tips from Dr. Grienenberger:
You’ve Made it to the End of the Dealing with Temper Tantrums Post
I hope this has post given you a bit of inspiration and ammo for your next toddler tantrum. Applying these methods has made Bossy into a happier little bug and her mom a much less stressed one. Oh, and meditating helps me out a ton too. You might think it impossible, but Meditating With a Toddler is Easy.
Until next time!!!
Have any of the above expert tips worked for you and your emotional kiddo? Add your thoughts and comments about dealing with temper tantrums and don’t forget to sign up for my free newsletter.
As always, sending you all love and good thoughts in your daily endeavors.
Together, they explore the topics of gentle parenting, healthy eating, grateful thinking, yoga bending, nifty hacking, green living, soul searching, and mindfulness practicing.
She has lived many lives. She has seen great beauty and utter darkness. It makes her whole. She is strong and with your presence, support, and love right here, right now ever stronger!!!
Read more about her by visiting the Meet the Bee page or email her right now!
We hope you enjoy the adventures of Chewy & Bossy!